The Untold Truth Of Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter is the oldest living former president as of this writing, and over the years he's built up an impressive legacy as a philanthropist and author.

The Democrat's origin story is well-documented: per the Miller Center, his family owned a peanut farm in Plains, Georgia. After he was born in 1924, they settled down in a nearby farmhouse where Carter grew up without access to facilities like running water or electricity. As he wrote in "An Hour Before Daylight," they lived a simple country life where his worst fear as a child was being bitten by a rabid dog. The young Carter also witnessed a lot of poverty and inequality, according to his autobiography, often acting as a go-between for his parents and the Black families on their land.

He started working at age ten, helping to sell produce from the peanut farm. His uncle Tom, who was a Navy man, inspired Carter with the tales of his adventures around the world. The boy resolved to join the Naval Academy one day as well, although he had no way of knowing just how far his career path would take him. Keep reading to discover more about the Southern boy who won over the nation.

Jimmy and his wife Rosalynn are the longest married presidential couple

Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn Carter have outlasted every single other presidential couple, staying happily married since 1946. The pair grew up as neighbors in the same Georgia town, as they told Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue in the book "What Makes a Marriage Last." Rosalynn was often around at the Carter house since she was "best friends" with Jimmy's little sister, Ruth. "I always said I fell in love with a photograph of him on her bedroom wall," she joked, adding that her mother thought it "must have been his white uniform."

When Rosalynn was eighteen, Jimmy came home from the Naval Academy one weekend and ended up taking her on a double date with his sister and her boyfriend. "She was beautiful and innocent, and there was a resonance. We rode in the rumble seat of a Ford pickup –- Ruth and her boyfriend in the front –- and I kissed her on that first date," the Democrat recalled in "What Makes a Marriage Last," revealing that he told his mother the next morning that he would marry Rosalynn one day. They were engaged by the following May. 

Jimmy explained that they stay just as connected, over 75 years later, by reading Bible passages together every single night. "The best thing I ever did was marrying Rosalynn. That's the pinnacle of my life," he told reporters in 2015, per CNN.

He quit a career in the Navy to save his family's peanut farm

After his father died in 1953, Jimmy Carter left the Navy and went back to Georgia to save the peanut farm. And as he told CNBC, it wasn't an easy decision. "It really was difficult because I had the best job in the Navy," Carter recalled, sharing that he had been assigned to an enviable position, overseeing a nuclear submarine. "It was a very torturous decision for me to make, I never had thought about it before." His wife and young family would also be uprooted by the move, which didn't appeal to Rosalynn Carter at first.

"She was very angry," Jimmy remembered, adding that she gave him the silent treatment for the entire "seven hour drive" from Schenectady, New York, to their Georgia farm. "She was very upset about going back to a little tiny town of Plains." Rosalynn admitted that she had been "having a good time" as a naval wife, traveling the world, and having adventures. "It was something he had to do because his brother Billy was still in high school, and his father had worked so hard to build up the business," she explained.

Even though Rosalynn knew it was the only way to rescue the family farm from ruin, it was a difficult time for the couple's marriage. "She almost quit me," Jimmy admitted to the Chicago Tribune in 1994, insisting that he still "never regretted" the move.

He changed his tune about civil rights

Civil rights were arguably the most controversial issue in Southern politics when Jimmy Carter was starting out. As the Wall Street Journal reported, Carter did inherit pro-integration views from his mother, who brought her nursing skills to the local Black community for free. And he faced down the local "White Citizens' Council," who threatened to boycott him for refusing to join their racist association, per the Los Angeles Times. But during the early years of his political career, Carter kept his open-minded opinions to himself and negotiated with local segregationist leaders in Georgia.

Once in power, however, the Democrat was able to publicly support civil rights. "I say to you quite frankly that the time for racial discrimination is over," he announced in his inaugural speech as governor. And as the Wall Street Journal observed, Carter quickly introduced integration to different branches of government in Georgia, including the state judiciary.

Once he was president, the politician argued for voters' rights and elected an unprecedented number of minorities to the federal bench, including the first black female Cabinet member ever.

He claimed to have seen a UFO

Jimmy Carter's presidency was unique in many ways: for example, he remains the only president who has ever reported a UFO sighting. The incident allegedly took place in 1969, before a meeting of a local Lions Club Georgia.

The former president described the encounter to GQ in 2005, revealing that there were "about twentyfive" men who witnessed the object. "And all of a sudden, one of the men looked up and said, "Look, over in the west!" And there was a bright light in the sky. We all saw it," he recalled, adding that the light "got closer and closer" to their group. "And then it stopped, I don't know how far away, but it stopped beyond the pine trees. And all of a sudden it changed color to blue, and then it changed to red, then back to white."

After it disappeared, Carter recorded his memory of the UFO by speaking into the tape recorder he had brought to help him remember people's names. In 1973, he filed an official report about the encounter to the International UFO Bureau, which was based in Oklahoma. He also later reportedly promised to release government information about UFOs if he was elected president. In his interview with GQ, however, the Democrat insisted that he "never believed that it came from Mars," denying that he ever had conspiracy theories about extraterrestrials arriving on Earth.

His run for president was unconventional

Jimmy Carter was an unlikely choice for president, after only one term as a Georgia governor. As the New Yorker reported, the politician was so unknown that a newspaper from his own home state ran the headline: "Jimmy Who Is Running For What?" But he managed to work his way up the polls as a "Washington outsider," which was a useful selling point in the aftermath of Watergate. As Carter told GQ, he doesn't believe that he would have won the election if not for Richard Nixon's downfall.

"I didn't have any money, and I was almost completely unknown outside of Georgia, and I had never served in Washington," the former president admitted, adding that he had "only spent a few days" in the capitol. "But it was a propitious time for me." Carter told voters that he would never lie to them, which was a "breath of fresh air" at the time.

His honesty led to a significant scandal, however: the Democrat shocked his Christian base when he told Playboy that he had "committed 'lust in his heart'" many times, per Smithsonian Magazine. The backlash almost cost him the whole race, as his significant lead over Gerald Ford shrank to only 57 votes on election night.

His foreign policy pushed him out of office

Jimmy Carter didn't just upset the status quo by rejecting White House traditions like the presidential yacht and "Hail to the Chief," per Parade. He also promised that he would make human rights a keystone of American foreign policy, settling peace between Israel and Egypt at the Camp David Accords

The Democrat's approach to international affairs did threaten his public approval, however, especially when he made the decision to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. "Neither I nor the American people would support the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan," Carter told NBC's "Meet the Press" at the time.

He was also criticized for returning the Panama Canal to Panama, as Republicans like Ronald Reagan argued that it made America seem weak, per The New York Times. But Carter's biggest stumbling block came when over 60 Americans were seized by Iranian revolutionaries. The ensuing crisis lasted 444 days and included a disastrous rescue attempt, which according to Vox, made Carter look like a failure. In the end, the Iran hostages were finally set free on the same day that Carter left office, after being beaten in a landslide by Ronald Reagan.

He made a blunder while meeting the royal family

Jimmy Carter's down-to-earth persona and folksy manners may have won over the American public, but they led to an embarrassing gaffe when he met the British royal family. Although he had previously been introduced to Queen Elizabeth in 1976 when she visited Washington for America's Bicentennial, per BBC America, Carter's first official audience with the royals as president came in 1977. As Time recorded, the president was invited to Buckingham Palace alongside other international leaders while he was in the UK for a NATO summit, his first overseas voyage as head of state.

Usually, diplomats tend to stay formal for their interactions with the Queen and her family, sticking to protocol by bowing or shaking hands. But Carter decided to switch things up when it was his turn to introduce himself to the Firm. As the Daily Mirror reported in 2010, the Southern politician greeted the Queen Mother by kissing her directly on the lips, per Express. "I took a sharp step backwards – not quite far enough," the Queen Mother reportedly quipped afterward, adding, "Nobody has done that since my husband died."

According to the Chicago Tribune, the White House protocol officer Barry Landau, who was in the room during the awkward interaction, described the Queen Mother as "mortified."

He left the White House and faced $1 million of debt

Jimmy Carter's post-presidential years didn't have the most encouraging start, as his old family business was now in debt.

As the Washington Post reported, Carter's peanut farm had been badly mismanaged after he put it in a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest during his presidency. He still faced suspicion from his fellow politicians, thanks to the involvement of his brother Billy, but a special counsel cleared him of any wrongdoing. The business actually consisted of two separate entities: a peanut warehousing firm and the corporation Carter Farms, which controlled "between 2,000 and 3,000 acres of land."

But by the time Carter had been beaten by Ronald Reagan and was coming home with his tail between his legs, both businesses were worth less than nothing. "We thought we were going to lose everything," Rosalynn Carter told the Washington Post. In order to avoid complete bankruptcy, the Georgia politician eventually had to sell the whole farm. The Carters stayed loyal to the area, however: as CNBC reported, they still live modestly in Plains, Georgia, to this day.

He's one of Habitat for Humanity's biggest supporters

One of the defining features of Jimmy Carter's post-presidency life has been his ongoing association with Habitat for Humanity. Since 1984, he and his wife have spent a week every single year building houses, recruiting volunteers, and raising funds through the Carter Work Project. "Habitat has successfully removed the stigma of charity by substituting it with a sense of partnership," Carter declared, sharing his admiration for the organization. "The people who will live in the homes work side by side with the volunteers, so they feel very much that they are on an equal level."

As the former president told People, he was motivated to help construct more than 4,000 homes by his faith. "One of the things Jesus taught was: If you have any talents, try to utilize them for the benefit of others," he explained. Carter also revealed that they sometimes revisit the sites where they worked years ago, out of curiosity. "We never find any houses that we have built with graffiti on the outside walls," he asserted, sharing that the homeowners are "very proud" of their residences.

This charity work has also led Carter to form an unexpected friendship. Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood are both longtime Habitat for Humanity volunteers, and as the country music stars told Opry, they have built houses alongside the Carters on their Work Project. "They embody the spirit of what Habitat is all about," Yearwood enthused, describing the presidential couple as "such an example to us."

He has an enormous family

Jimmy Carter has made his devotion to family clear over the years. And the former president has a massive brood to take care of: as he told CNN in 2015, his family extends to "22 grand and great-grandchildren, 38 of us in all." Carter's youngest child, Amy Carter, was only nine when her father entered the White House and his parenting choices immediately came under scrutiny when he chose to send her to "a predominantly black Washington, D.C., public school," per The Atlantic. This was an unusual choice, given that every other sitting president since 1906 had sent their children to an elite private school (and none of Jimmy's successors have followed in his footsteps since.)

In his book "Sharing Good Times" he wrote about the joy of seeing his grandson Hugo Carter explore the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands on a family holiday. "Learning to share in this way has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my life," Jimmy concluded, reflecting on the beauty of witnessing your family's younger generations.

Tragically, however, one of Jimmy's beloved grandsons has already died. As CNN reported, Jeremy Carter suffered a cardiac incident in 2015 and couldn't be revived in hospital. Hours after the 28-year old's death, a "shaken" Jimmy came to his local church in Plains, Georgia, to announce the heartbreaking news.

He has a prolific career as an author

Although Jimmy Carter faced a daunting amount of debt when he left the White House, the politician has managed to build up his net worth by publishing more than 30 books.

According to Celebrity Net Worth, Jimmy Carter is now worth $10 million, thanks in part to his successful career as an author. Carter's attitude towards his finances was set in stone on the day after he left office when he told reporters that he wouldn't abuse his position as a former president to make money. As he told The Guardian, the Democrat was inspired by the president he "admired most," Harry Truman. "When Truman left office he took the same position," Carter stated. "He didn't serve on corporate boards. He didn't make speeches around the world for a lot of money."

His prolific output as a writer includes memoirs, poetry, advice about foreign policy, and novels, making Carter the first president to publish a work of fiction, according to CNN. He even collaborated with his daughter Amy on a children's book called "The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer," which she illustrated. The politician, whose office for writing was previously a garage, also received a considerable amount of backlash for a book called "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" in which he used his experience as a diplomat to weigh in on Israel. "He's used to criticism," his researcher Steven Hochman told The Guardian. "But I think it did hurt him. Some friends broke with him."

He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002

Jimmy Carter was recognized by the Nobel prize panel in 2002, two decades after he was originally considered for the prestigious award. According to Politico, the politician had missed out after the 1978 Camp David Accords because he wasn't technically nominated before the deadline passed, although his fellow negotiators Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat won the Peace Prize that year. In 2002, the panel chose Carter for his "outstanding commitment to human rights," honoring his work as a diplomat as well as the achievements of the Carter Center.

Founded in 1982 by the former president and his wife, the Carter Center has been widely praised for its efforts to bring accessible health care and higher living standards around the globe. In particular, the center managed to raise awareness around Guinea worm disease, which previously affected millions, per WHO, and decrease the number of worldwide cases by 99.99 percent. "He has worked hard on many fronts to fight tropical diseases and to bring about growth and progress in developing countries," the Nobel committee observed.

His acceptance speech was interpreted as a criticism of then-president George W. Bush, who had just launched a war in Iraq at the time. "War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good," Carter argued, adding that "we will not learn to live together in peace by killing each other's children."

He came near death in 2015

Thanks to the kind of social work that won him a Nobel Peace Prize, Jimmy Carter's reputation has improved significantly over the years, making him one of the most popular living former presidents.

The public was concerned, therefore, when Carter made a concerning announcement about his health in August 2015. As CNN reported, the Georgian held a press conference to tell the world that after an operation on his liver, doctors had confirmed the presence of cancer, which was also found in "four spots on his brain." He confirmed that he would be starting radiation soon. Carter also stated that he "had a wonderful life," adding that his fate was "in the hands of God, whom I worship."

NBC then announced in December 2015 that the former politician was cancer-free after he confirmed the miraculous news to a Sunday school class. A year later, Carter admitted during a Habitat for Humanity event that he "didn't think [he] was going to live but two or three weeks," per NBC. "I was putting on a kind of a false, optimistic face," he revealed. And despite some bad falls, he's stayed healthy and kept building houses ever since.